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Lawmakers Prepare to Assemble Project-Rich Water Resources Bill

Four months after overriding the president’s veto to pass a $23 billion water projects bill, Congress is beginning to assemble another one.

The bipartisan leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee sent a letter to Members on March 14 inviting project requests for a new Water Resources Development Act bill.

WRDA authorizes navigation studies, shoreline protection, environmental restoration and other water-related projects involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The bill typically is passed every two years, but Congress had not moved a WRDA bill since 2000, so the 2007 bill “focused mainly on addressing the backlog of project authorizations, modifications, and studies that had accumulated since 2000,” the leaders wrote. It is therefore “appropriate that Congress develop a [WRDA] of 2008 to address new project studies and authorizations that have arisen over the past two years.”

Bush vetoed the WRDA bill in November, arguing that it lacked fiscal discipline. In his veto message, Bush noted that “The House of Representatives took a $15 billion bill into negotiations with a $14 billion bill from the Senate and instead of splitting the difference, emerged with a Washington compromise that costs over $23 billion.” He argued that the “over 900 projects and programs” in the bill “exacerbates the massive backlog of ongoing Corps construction projects, which will require an additional $38 billion in future appropriations to complete.”

Both chambers of Congress voted to override the veto by wide margins. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, gave this rationale for voting against the president: “I believe in building the infrastructure of this country, and I believe in the authorization process. I believe it offers our only discipline on spending. I am sorry that a lot of conservatives don’t understand this, and they believe this is a spending bill, when it is not. So as much as I hate to do this, I urge my colleagues on the Republican side to join me in overriding the President’s veto of this very significant bill that each State in America needs.”

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is asking Members to submit requests for the new WRDA bill by April 25. The letter was signed by Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and ranking member John Mica (R-Fla.) as well as Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and John Boozman (R-Ark.), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

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